MARTIN O’Neill says he hopes all the fall-out from the controversial and exciting derby game at the weekend does not obscure the fact that Sunderland played well and were desperately unlucky not to hold out for a win.
He told the Echo: “There was a lot going on during the game and there’s been a lot going on since the game ended.
“But I’m a little concerned that, with everything that’s been said and looked at, it might be overlooked how well we played.”
The Black Cats boss usually holds his Press conferences with his local media later in the week, but he held it earlier this week because he wanted to correct misinterpretations that were in danger of taking hold.
“Look,” he said. “After a game, you give a Press conference and you assume that, by and large, both sides will see things similarly.
“But I thought some of the messages coming out were so contrary to what actually happened that it was important to correct perceptions sooner this week rather than later.
“But I do also want to get across the fact that I was very proud of my players – specifically in terms of the way the played a very testing derby game in which they faced a real test.
“We won the first half and deservedly went in ahead at the break.
“Newcastle came out strongly in the second half and had a good quarter-of-an-hour – I would expect no less when you are 1-0 down in a derby and you have a big crowd of fans who are getting increasingly unhappy.
“But we looked to be weathering that storm and it shouldn’t be forgotten that we produced the best chance in that spell – the one where James McClean’s shot was cleared off the line.
“Then we have the sending off which changed the whole game.
“Had we kept it 11 against 11, especially the way Stephane Sessegnon had been playing, it’s likely we would have seen a very different result.
“But, even with 10 men, my players were strong.
“I thought my two centre-halves, John O’Shea and Michael Turner, were magnificent.
“They had really dominated their opponents in the first half and then, in the second, they were brilliant at heading balls out, getting tackles in and being brave when they needed to be.
“Behind them, Simon Mignolet played his part with a great penalty save late in the game.
“The only regretful thing is that, having seen it through to the 90-minute mark, we couldn’t keep them out for just a few more minutes.
“If we had done, I think we would have been talking about arguably one of the great derby victories for Sunderland.
“Even so, though, we should remember that we have put a few disappointing derby results behind us with that game – shown that Sunderland can be a real force.
“Let’s not forget that we went away from home, to a very intimidating atmosphere and against a team that has been flying this season, and we were the better side in their own backyard for the first half.
“It would have been interesting to see how it would have panned out with 11 against 11 in the second half, but, regardless of that and all the other stuff that has been flying around, I think that Sunderland fans can be proud of a really memorable performance from their players.
“The players gave everything and for half an hour with only 10 men they held on so doggedly that they could count themselves unlucky not to get the win their efforts deserved.”